‘One third of homes dependent on benefits’

This newspaper article is used in the questions and learning activities that follow.

One in three households across Britain is now dependent on the state for at least half its income, it emerged today. Official government figures indicate that more than seven million households are getting most of their income from government welfare payments. The figures also reveal the huge gulf in welfare dependency between single parent and two-parent households.

The figures were quoted in a report by Civitas, a right-wing think-tank, and it is scathing about how New Labour welfare policy has been designed to “create grateful voters rather than independent people”. In many single-parent homes with two children, the proportion of families that would be financially crippled without state support is now as high as 61 per cent. That compares with just 9% in a two-parent home.

The figures, prepared by the Department for Work and Pensions but cited today in the new report from Civitas, paint a stark picture of how Britain ‘s dependency culture has grown over the last few decades. Gordon Brown has been repeatedly attacked for building up a society heavily reliant on tax credits and other state aid. The Chancellor’s tax credits scheme was “only the most prominent example of welfare policies intended to create a grateful electorate rather than free-thinking citizens”, the report says.

However, the report also suggests that David Cameron’s Conservatives are worried about seeming uncaring, and therefore not ready to take drastic action and copy American-style policies that have produced huge drops in benefit claims in the United States . The claim was denied by a spokesman for the shadow chancellor, George Osborne, who said the Tories were developing policies to reduce the size of Mr. Brown’s state.

According to David Green from Civitas, the author of the report, data on the real scale of state dependency have only been collected for the last five years or so. But he estimated that the proportion of households dependent on state handouts for at least 50 per cent of income had been probably as low as five per cent in the 1960s. It rose during the 1970s and 1980s, especially because of soaring unemployment under the Thatcher government.

His report in the current issue of Civitas Review makes the wider point that politics is no longer providing the answers to Britain ‘s problems. The Blair years had “tested to destruction” the notion that big spending on health, education and welfare was the answer. There was a widespread perception that high crime, failing schools, unsustainable immigration and the low quality of the NHS were “not being properly confronted by our political leaders”.

Mr. Green went on: “Even Conservatives who are concerned about the failure of public sector monopolies in health and education are slow to criticise the Blair Government’s approach”. That was because “they know that calling for a reduced role for the state in health and education is to invite being caricatured as uncaring”. Mr Green urged the Tories not to accept the modern view that individual action and liberty were the same as “selfish individualism”.

A government spokesman last night defended the scale of state help, saying: “It is thanks to our system of tax credits and the New Deal that we have two million more people in work than in 1997. We have also raised hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty.”

The analysis of benefit dependency, based on the latest DWP statistics, will strike a chord with a report from the Reform, another right-wing think-tank. Last year it warned that the Government had created a benefits regime that “actively dissuades millions from bettering their position”.

Frank Field, the Labour former welfare minister, has also called for the system to be reformed. Welfare should be “a floor on which people built and not a ceiling which made it impossible for them to pass through”, Mr Field said. Last night David Laws, the Liberal Democrat’s welfare spokesman, also accused the Chancellor of helping to bolster the dependency culture.

The shadow chancellor Mr Osborne said: “Under Gordon Brown the role of the state has multiplied and government has got bigger and bigger. This is exactly the opposite of what a competitive enterprise economy needs.”

(Adapted from an article by Brendan Carlin in The Weekly Telegraph.)

Activity 1 – before reading the article

  1. What do you understand by the expression welfare support?
  2. Do people in your home country receive welfare support? What for?
  3. Who should receive welfare support?
  4. Do you know the meaning and origin of right-wing and left-wing in politics?

Activity 2 – before reading the article in detail

Scan the text and find the significance of these figures and names.

  • 7 million
  • Civitas
  • 61%
  • 9%
  • Department for Work and Pensions
  • Gordon Brown
  • David Cameron
  • David Green
  • 1970s and 1980s
  • 2 million more
  • hundreds of thousands
  • Reform
  • Frank Field

Activity 3 – read the text silently

Note the following key words:

  • gulf — scathing — stark — reliant — drastic — handouts — regime
  • perception — unsustainable — confronted — caricatured — legitimate

Activity 4 – Complete these sentences using the above words:

  • The man claimed that he was the …… heir to the throne and he demanded an investigation.
  • The priest went from street to street giving …… to the people who were sleeping rough but he was criticised for this by the police.
  • The …… at the prison was very strict and he had no choice but to follow it.
  • There was an enormous ….. between him and his children and however hard he tried he was unable to cross it.
  • The cartoons in the television programme …… him in a cruel way, but he was pleased because it would have been worse to have been ignored.
  • The human rights body, Liberty , issued a …… attack on the police for the way in which they handled the case.
  • His counselor said that it was important that he …… his fears if he wished to overcome them.
  • There was a …… contrast between his views and those of his brother.
  • The way in which we are using fossil fuels is …… and we must switch to renewable sources of power.
  • He was very …… on his bicycle and went almost no-where outside his house without it.
  • The …… of many people is that the government was totally wrong in its policy over Iraq .
  • His debts were getting too great so he took …… steps and cut up his credit cards and sold his car.

Activity 5 – Based on the article, are these statements true or false?

  1. Most single-parent families are now dependent on government welfare payments.
  2. The Civitas report suggests that the government policies encourage people not to work.
  3. The Conservatives are unwilling to challenge Brown’s policies because they don’t want their policies to resemble American policies too closely.
  4. The Thatcher government was the initial cause of the rising rates of welfare payments.
  5. The report suggests that providing additional funds will not in itself improve health and education in the UK .
  6. Mr. Green did not want a reduced role for government in health and education because this would be seen as selfish and uncaring.
  7. Reform believes that providing welfare payments makes people lazy.
  8. It is probable that Frank Field would not agree with Civitas or Reform but he does want the welfare system to be reformed.

Activity 6 – Exploration of language

  1. What is the difference between quoted (in para 2) and cited (in para 3)?
  2. The newspaper article uses several different verbs to avoid repeating words like wrote or said. What words are used? For example, in para 1: indicate and reveal
  3. Are there any emotive words used in the article? By whom? Why?
  4. Explain the meaning of the expression ‘tested to destruction’. Do you have similar sayings in your first language?
  5. There are at least nine examples of metaphor in the passage. Can you find them?
  6. Discuss with other students: ‘Does welfare support discourage people from working?’

There are lesson planning notes for this article in the Teacher’s Centre.